“Wisely and slow; they stumble that run fast.”
-ye olde Bill Shakespeare (Friar Laurence from Rome and Juliet)
After waiting many hard winter months without any baseball, it seems unfair to ask us sabermagicians to wait even longer to saberize our favorite teams and players. Unfortunately, that is what we must do. One of the core principles of sabermetric thought is the value of sample size.
We cannot do as our detractors think we do: We cannot resort to looking for greater truths from lesser findings.
So, this early part of the year features a lot of articles about players’ plate discipline numbers and pitchers’ pitch f/x changes — small slivers of reality that give us clues to how the big reality will start to look.
One such thing we can look at early in the season: batting average on balls in play (BABIP). Why? BABIP stabilizes slowly, but tends to stay in a particular range for hitters (somewhere between .250 and .350, with most hitters being quite near to .300). So, early in the season, we can usually take a gander at the Luck Loserboard (those hitters with BABIPs at or beneath .200) and get a good idea about which players are poised to rebound.
As we can easily see, Jorge Posada has had some interesting results early in the season. When my wife says “interesting,” she usually means: “No, of course I didn’t like that war movie,” but here, I say “interesting” to mean: “He has a laughably terrible BABIP (.097), one far beneath his career rate (.317), yet he has swatted a respected 105 wRC+ — meaning the gentleman DHer has performed 5% above league average.”
BABIP doesn’t include HRs — and Jorge has clobbered 5 of them — but still, the work of Mr. Posada and the other Green Men (Jacoby Ellsbury, Jason Heyward, Mark Teixeira, and Ian Kinsler ) is undeniably impressive. Despite Luck Beasts gobbling up their ground balls, fly balls, and line drives alike, they have all managed to hit for above league average — no small feat.
Meanwhile, we also have the Red Army — specifically, Carl Crawford, Brett Gardner, Will Venable, and James Loney. These gents have a combined 1 home run in over 200 plate appearances, courtesy of Lonely. None of them have a wOBA over .200 and are likely disowned from their families. Fear not gentlemen! There comes this time every year — a time when it seems like the BABIP tide will not rise again — but in truth, history has taught us time and again they stumble that run fast to judgment!
Take Off-Season Darling Carl Crawford, for example. He owns a career BABIP in the .326 neighborhood. His 2011 season will almost undoubtedly not end the way it began. Others, like James Lonely, should regress, though not necessarily very much.
Other notes of interest:
Bradley writes for FanGraphs and The Hardball Times. Follow him on Twitter @BradleyWoodrum.